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In the Thanksgiving feast preamble, my dear reader,I hope you can sneak in a burger… or at least a review. Over a recent late lunch, I planned to resume the hunt for a quality gourmet burger on the Westside,  desperately trying not to think of poultry. My target was the place I should’ve gone instead of Steingarten LA, avoiding one of the worst burger dining experiences I’ve had in recent memory, in favor of a place that had the potential to deliver a burger meriting its asking price.

The buzz for Plan Check Kitchen + Bar was audible from blocks away. People, random strangers and those I trusted, would often fold Plan Check into the mix of great burger purveyors in the City of Angels. The spot wasn’t new to me; I couldn’t escape the thriving eatery while I was picking up plants at the nearby nurseries or miss the glowing LA Times review from Jonathon Gold a month back.

On a corner of Sawtelle Boulevard, sandwiched between Japanese Nurseries and an array of Asian eateries, the contemporary bar and kitchen combo stands apart, pumping out libations while filling  bellies with punched-up comfort foods. A friend and I arrived in the late afternoon and passed on dining indoors (trendy communal tables, spacious booths and bar seating) to take root in their great outdoor space, basking in the mid-fall warmth awash Los Angeles.

We took a studied glance at the menus—the burgers were a must but the sides are where we ventured into the great unknown. The wine list was devastatingly simple and I elected to go for a draft beer—pining for my flask full of wine.

Between the sweet potato waffle fries, hot pastrami fries (a special), and two “Chef’s favorite burgers, we were as good as gold.

The sides arrived first. Overflowing from their cast-iron trays, the sweet potato waffle-cuts were glowing and when mixed with the peach ketchup it was uncomfortably close to becoming a desert… nicely done, but cloying. The pastrami fries were covered in melted Swiss, copious pieces of pastrami and topped with diced pickles. The best version of smothered French fries I have had to date. We ate a little to save room for the entrees.

Creativity sets Plan Check’s burger apart from its competitors, with innovative additions like ketchup leather, and serving bacon and cheese in two ways (a gooey mess and a cheese crisp). Those additions add depth of flavor and provide some much needed contrast in texture to this incredibly tender burger. The first bite broke the yolk; my fingers were mired in a messy yellow and red (hot sauce), as I tried my best to keep clean. The patty was well executed—cooked to a medium rare—and the ketchup leather added a nice complement of sweet to the already savory and lightly spiced cheeseburger. Two strips of bacon added to that savory smack.

If anything the burger was too much. I felt weighed down and in need of shower afterwards. It was an intense and delicious experience, but too rich for me. At its best, Plan Check combined a lot of my favorite elements like serving the sides first (a la 25˚), a fried egg like some of those standout burgers in Compton, and wielding a soft grind like the delightful 5 Star burger in New Mexico. Not on the shortlist for best burgers of Los Angeles but a close outlier that is worth the price and a niffty destination if you are on the Westside.

From an exceptional California cheeseburger experience on the shores of Jalama Beach, I thought to keep my momentum going for my next Big City burger foray. A newer eatery piqued my interest after reading a technical and favorable review of their burgers in the LA Times. Setting a good time with a friend, both of us set off to check out the neighborhood gem, visions of Jalama still swirling. Friday night came and a quick drive-by revealed a gastropub with little wiggle room, diners queuing up around the corner for their turn at the vaunted comfort foods. We wanted no part of the wait and scrambled to find an alternative on the Westside—arriving at Steingarten LA. Karma from Jalama?

Not our first choice that evening, but it seemed like a reasonable pick for its proximity. On Pico Boulevard, across the street from Marty’s Hamburger Stand, we had located a beer-friendly establishment that served burgers. Seated immediately, we were ushered to the last table in the house. Steingarten LA was beaming with energy and big parties (six-tops and larger) spread out across the dining room… lulling us into a false sense of security. Given a minute to mull over the menus, it took little time for us to select drink and fare.

I had ordered “The Works,” which was their take on a classic California burger served with tomato, cheddar cheese, lettuce, raw onions, Thousand Island dressing over a half-pound patty of grass-fed beef that I wanted cooked medium-rare. While I was in favor of keeping it simple—or so I thought—my friend found “Golden Prize,” a burger that boasted herb roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, Brie and roasted garlic sauce, to be more in line with his palate.

The Clippers were keeping the Lakers down on the big screen; we watched a fraction of the game before the beers found the table and discussion switched to the state of the NHL. In an uncharacteristic move that augured ill, our server spilled a portion of my draft ale over the table. She apologized immediately as I wiped up the white suds that were ejected from the challis. Small annoyance for what was to come… I assured her that everything was okay, no biggie, until the… food arrived.

With her tail between her legs, our server came back, apologetically, and presented us with two cheeseburgers a la the Atkins Diet; embarrassingly enough they had run out of buns!!! In my short time (almost four years) as a burger blogger, and longer as an eater, I have never been to a restaurant that has run out of burger buns. She told us that they would compensate us for the communication breakdown between kitchen and wait staff; in the meantime we were resigned to eating with fork and knife. Life would go on. End of mishaps.

I was even willing to overlook the bun-less sandwich, going European on the first bite before it yielded… an overcooked patty. Somewhere the Burger Gods were laughing hysterically. I tried hard to find the silver lining. It couldn’t get any worse! We were given pretzel buns halfway through the meal as a consolation—a peace offering. Those were as good as useless.

I really don’t like to pan restaurants but there were too many blatant service errors to be ignored, followed by food errors. My friend liked his burger sans bun (to be fair), but wasn’t happy with the late game appearance of a pretzel bun meant to assuage our grief. And we ended up paying full price—our server forgot her earlier words. Keeping our lips sealed as we walked out the door, the night ended filled with an air of “what could have been.” If only we had waited!

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